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Published: December 9th 2009
I think we all found Jaipur to be a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps it was tiredness from the train trip, or a touch of world-weariness and heartache getting the better of us, or something else entirely, but the sadness, hassle and irritations just seemed to penetrate our barriers and sit uncomfortably under the skin on that first day we arrived. Arriving at our guesthouse, Devi Niwas, was even unpleasant, as the woman who ran the place was decidedly unhappy about letting us in at 7am and almost refused (even though we had informed her of our arrival time the previous day). Poor thing though - as she explained, everyone there works very hard until late at night, so early mornings are quite firmly reserved for sleeping. Despite the rocky start, things soon warmed up with a chai and happily, by the time we left the guesthouse a few days later we were parting our hosts with hugs and kisses rather than tired crankies!
Our first venture into the Old City of Jaipur landed us in the midst of a bazaar, where tens of people descended on us in wave after wave of attacks of the now familiar catch cries and attempts to initiate conversation - not just from shop sellers, but from almost every local male on the street. They are incredibly good at maintaining largely one way conversations and have incredible endurance and stamina, following you long after you have made it clear you are not interested in buying anything from them, or from their other shop, or their brother's/cousin's/uncle's shops; i'm from Australia, yes, Ricky Ponting is great; no thank you, I am not buying anything today; no, lot looking thanks ("no, not buy, just looking, don't buy" - what the?!); no, don't want silk, no pashminas thank you, or saris, or pottery; no this-that-or-ANYthing; actually no I don't want to spend the day with you, and I definitely will not be accompanying you to the dance or party that you are telling me that we will go to together tonight, but have a lovely day: goodbye :-) and then it continues for at least another 30 seconds of the same until they give up, and the next contender approaches... I think we are all generally pretty good are being politely pleasant but firm, though on this occasion it did become a little tiring and seemed more of a struggle... It was quite an intense onslaught and by the end we were all spitting fire to each other about the evils of the patriarchy and all its entails, citing the endless list of wrongs, imbalances, and injustices it gives rise to...
One thing that did help us to collect ourselves and to appreciate more positive aspects of life, such as the amazing world and also human ingenuity, was a visit to the Jantar Mantar. This is an incredible observatory commissioned by Astronomy mad Maharaja Jai Singh (the same guy who founded the city) in 1728 and it's a fascinating layout of fabulous and mind boggling stone instruments on a massive scale that all measure various aspects of the heavens. There are instruments for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking star and planet movement, doing all sorts of zodiac stuff, and all sorts of other cool jazz (my descriptions are oh-so-technical, I know) that I only really partly understood but was impressed by nonetheless :-) Uber cool was the giant sundial, which at almost 30 metres is apparently the biggest in the world, that measures time to an accuracy of within two seconds.
On the streets again, and hoping to quickly find some respite from them, we tracked down a restaurant we'd read about in the Lonely Planet to grab a bite to eat. In LMD we were led to a dining room happily deeply removed from the street hustle and bustle, and we slumped into relaxation in our seats. It was a really enjoyable meal, mostly because we were seated next to a lovely couple from Mumbai who explained various unknown dishes to us, bringing over forksful of their own meal for us to sample. So sweet. They were a really interesting couple and, coincidentally, spend much of their time in Finland, which is where Laura is from, so there was a nice lunchtime conversation to be had.
Leaving the restaurant with our frowns turned upside down, Deb and Laura decided to get a rickshaw straight back to the guesthouse before their rediscovered calm was disturbed once more, while Hero and I braved the very same bazaar we had beelined out of that morning, to purchase the perfect Christmas present for a certain 7 year old we would be seeing in just a few weeks. We are usually more likely to give Lucy (a pink loving, princess wannabe die-hard Barbie fan girlie-girl) books and gender-neutral or gender balanced gifts, I couldn't for her sake resist this one thing that I am sure she will just love: a bright pink and blue blingy (glitter and mirror-studded) outfit - with matching glittery pink bangles and bindis) that will no doubt give her hours of dress up fun as an Indian princess. At least I hope she loves it, after the ordeal we stoically endured to obtain it!
Returning to our guesthouse was quite amusing. When we finally arrived - we'd had to work together with out driver to find the place, as (like most rickshaw drivers do) when he'd said at the beginning that he knew where it was, of course he actually didn't :-) - we buzzed at the gate and were both really keen to get inside and just relax. But when our host came to the gate we didn't receive welcoming smiles. Rather, the greeting was an evil eye death stare that was showing us quite clearly our host was being very disapproving, for what reason we had no idea. I wasn't sure if she was even going to let us in, though she moved aside slightly when Hero, thinking she hadn't recognised us, brightly and cheerfully held up our key and said "Room 207!" I could tell that she definitely recognised me, and when I gave Hero the up and down like our guest had, the penny dropped and I burst out laughing - as it had been so hot that day, Hero had zipped off the legs of her trousers and was wearing her pants as knee-length shorts (and looked very much like a boy scout). Combined with her short hair, our host had obviously mistaken her for a boy and thought that I was sneaking in a strange boy to my room! It was pretty cute: when I'd helped them both understand the situation, we all had a laugh together, especially our host. As she was walking away and we to our rooms, she kept turning back to have another look at Hero's legs and another giggle :-)
Our next day in Jaipur was one of sightseeing, now that a good night's rest had fortified our defenses and lifted our perspectives. We checked out the incredible Hawa Mahal, "Palace of the Winds," where the royal women spent their lives shut up away from the world and given elaborate peepholes through which they could observe without being observed, and thus be 'safe' from the lascivious glances of men. Of course there was ample space within the walls for the maharaja to come and hang out. All the palaces we've seen have so-called "pleasure rooms" and the like for the maharaja's use as he pleased. Patriarchy again... grrrr... ;-)
We also headed out to the Amber Fort and, just above it, the Jaigarh Fort, which are both visually striking and have incredible artistic and architectural work in them. We struggled to make the climb from Amber to Jaigargh in the heat, but it was very much worth it once we were up there, not only for the fort itself, but also for the stunning views it provided of the surrounding rugged countryside. Exploring these two sucked several hours out of our day, and combined with the earlier palace sightseeing, we were all quite knackered by the late afternoon when we headed back to our guesthouse.
It was a good thing that we had dinner locally and stayed in for a relatively early night, as we had more than 24 hours of travel awaiting us the next morning...
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